Black students might benefit more from year-round schooling than students of other races, according to a university African American studies professor.

A small crowd in Taliaferro Hall yesterday listened to Odis Johnson Jr.’s, “Great Equalizers or Conduits of Neighborhood Social Disorganization? A Crossed-Counterfactual Analysis of Year-Round and Nine-month Schooling” brown bag discussion, in which he explained how school year length might affect the race gap in educational achievement.

Black boys start school with lower test scores, Johnson said, and they also see the least improvements after entering school; by the first grade, they are 4.8 months behind their peers in reading, he added. Johnson, who is interim chairman of the African American studies department, said previous studies were inconclusive as to whether schools or other social factors caused these differences.

“We can’t hold schools accountable to achievements if inequalities are happening while schools are not in session,” Johnson said.

By limiting research variables to only in-school and non-school contexts, Johnson said, past studies failed to take into account the different conditions that arise naturally in different neighborhoods. In his study, he compared year-round and nine-month students, matching them by background characteristics such as gender and socioeconomic status.

Johnson’s results showed that from the end of kindergarten to the end of the first grade, black students fared better in year-round schools than in traditional nine-month institutions.

Those in year-round schools, he found, saw little change in reading during the year but showed improvement in the summer. In contrast, black students in nine-month schools declined in reading during the year, changed little in the summer and declined again when the school year began.

Math scores showed similar results for black students, as year-round students benefited in the summer and showed no significant decline during the traditional school months. Meanwhile, black students in nine-month schools saw no changes during the summer and decline during the school year.

But Johnson’s data showed no such results for other races.

He interpreted his results to show that schools are “both equalizers and conduits” to the racial achievement gap.

Year-round schools help only black students during the regular calendar year, and thus school scheduling could limit racial inequality. Yet, he found schools fail to offset effects of neighborhoods on achievement.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is pushing toward year-round schooling, but Johnson is skeptical of how beneficial such a change might be.

“Year-round schools may not be the panacea we were hoping them to be,” Johnson said.

Antoine Bartholomew, a graduate student studying geospatial information sciences, said he was surprised to hear that year-round schools don’t benefit the majority of students. He added that factors other than achievement might drive schools to start year-round curricula.

“I feel there’s been a trend in society to move toward year-round schools, and they’re perceived to be better,” Bartholomew said. “They’re better for parental schedules, which is one reason there might be a push toward year-round schools.”

Sophomore African American studies and sociology Kendall Foster said Johnson’s research ignored variables such as school quality.

“I don’t think his results were skewed, but I think the variables he chose are what got him the data he got. If he added variables, his results might be different,” Foster said. “I guess it was skewed in that sense.”

But Bartholomew said Johnson’s choices were “robust” and appropriate for his topic of interest.

“They could always throw in different variables, but the variables he chose were effective to his study,” he said.